Tuscarora – The Ones That Stayed Behind
…and Followed the River for Days and Days and Days…
I think this is the most difficult introduction I have ever written, because it’s so hard to describe the sacred with mere human words. Most Native tribes have a Storyteller or Sacred Memory Keeper, a sacred position and entrusted person to preserve and pass the history from the Ancestors to the youth – to assure that the lessons learned aren’t lost – and through those stories to connect the present and the future to the past. In Native culture, our Ancestors and our Stories are both Sacred.
The series of events in the past few days and months have come together to offer a wonderful opportunity to preserve the heritage of the Tuscarora people as a whole, with the dedication of a memorial at Fort Neoheroka, commemorating and honoring the Tuscarora who fell there 300 years ago. But not all fell, and not all died. Not all went north in the migration that spanned the next 90 years. The stories of those who stayed are written in the blood of the people, their descendants, in the obscured records and in the stories, still maintained by those Sacred Memory Keepers who we all know and love as both distant and close family members today.
Robert Chavis, a Tuscarora from North Carolina attended the Fort Neoheroka commemoration events and braved the briers to make his way to the creek, the approach shown above, that sacred creek that served as salvation for a few Tuscarora who managed to escape the massacre in the Fort. Robert has graciously agreed to share his photos and they are used throughout this article. Thank you Robert. The Ancestors voices through Robert’s photographs combined with Pine Dove’s story are extremely moving and powerful. Nyaweh to both!
A tunnel existed, between the Fort and the Creek, and a few fortunate Tuscarora made it out alive and avoided capture.
On the map above, Moore’s battle map, you can clearly see Captain Moore’s encampment to the right, and the Fort to the left.
Fort Neoheroka was an irregularly shaped enclosure of one and one-half acres contained within a palisaded wall. Along this wall, at strategically located points, were bastions and blockhouses. Within the enclosure were houses and caves. An enclosed passageway, or “waterway,” led to the nearby branch of Contentnea Creek.
When Moore arrived before this impressive fortification, he began careful preparations to destroy it. Three batteries were constructed nearby and from Moore’s Yamassee Indian Battery facing the fort, a zig-zag trench was dug to within a few yards of the front wall. This trench provided protective cover for men to approach and build a blockhouse and battery near the fort. Both of these structures were higher than the walls of the fort so that the enemy within might be subjected to direct fire.
A tunnel also extended from the trench to the front wall so that it might be undermined with explosives.
To the left, above, you can clearly see the tunnel that leads from Fort Neoheroka to Conntentnea Creek.
The following photo, taken by Robert this past weekend, shows the entrance to the tunnel, the “waterway,” that led to the creek.
Below, the tunnel exit in the bank beside the creek along with Tuscarora returning home for the commemoration this past weekend.
Below, the Contentnea Creek below the tunnel exit.
“On the morning of March 20th,  every man was at his post when a trumpet sounded the signal for the attack. Three days later Fort Neoheroka lay a smoldering ruin and the enemy acknowledged defeat. The Indian loss was 950, about half killed and the balance taken into slavery. Moore’s loss was fifty-seven killed and eighty-two wounded. With this one crushing blow, the power of the Tuscarora nation was broken.”
Well, that’s the official story, but it’s not the whole story, nor was the Tuscarora Nation broken.
DeGraffenried writes of the Tuscarora: …“The Savages showed themselves unspeakably brave, so much so that when our soldiers had become masters of the fort and wanted to take out the women and children who were under ground, where they were hidden along with their provisions, the wounded savages who were groaning on the ground still continued to fight.”
Not all died or were captured. The remaining Tuscarora fled deep into the interior toward the Virginia border, many of them eventually going to New York where they joined the Five Nations.
The war was not over, however, for at the same time Moore was attacking Ft. Neoheroka, the Machapunga and Coree had been striking at settlements along the Pungo River. Moore’s troops were requested to hunt them down.
Moore gathered the 120 or 130 of his Yamassee Indian forces who had not returned to South Carolina with plunder and captives, and marched to the Pamlico where, in June 1713, he attempted to crush these remaining Indians. He was only partially successful, for as one contemporary account states, the trackless wilderness from which these Indians operated lay “between Matchapungo River and Roanoke Island which is about 100 miles in length and of considerable breadth, all in a manner lakes, quagmires, and cane swamps, and is . . . one of the greatest deserts in the world, where it is almost impossible for white men to follow them.” In September 1713, Colonel Moore gave up and returned to South Carolina.
By the spring of 1714, one or two small bands of Indians were once more terrorizing the Bath County plantations. One account describing their activities explained that “they rove from place to place cut off two or three families today and within two or three days do the like a hundred miles off from the former. They are like deer — there is no finding them.”
There were originally thought to be about 50 “hostile” Indians left, but even after 30 Indian scalps were taken, additional Indians had joined to expand the band. After a couple of years, the government finally gave up trying to exterminate them and concluded a peace with the surviving hostile Indians in January of 1715 and they were assigned to what would become the Mattamusukeet Indian reservation on Lake Mattamuskeet in present day Hyde County. Several Tuscarora were among them. In 1724, the Tuscarora, under Chief Blount were awarded their own reservation in Bertie County.
The Tuscarora were not gone, they had learned how to become invisible. They lived in the swamps and traveled the creeks and rivers. Many never joined their brethren on the reservations. Although cast in the mists of time, their memory is not dead.
With this, I would like to introduce to you, Pinedove the Younger, Keeper of Memories, Tuscarora Daughter of the Carolinas. Pinedove was named honoring an earlier Keeper of Memories who carried the same name. I want to thank her for sharing, in her own words, this most personal, sacred, family story, never told publicly until now, but passed from her ancestors lips for generations, ever since that fateful day.
Find a quiet place….
THE ONES THAT STAYED BEHIND
It is not lightly that I choose to share this most sacred legacy of memory that has been passed down through my family for more lifetimes than we know. At this point in time this is what has been left to us, anything more now only heard through the whispers of the Refugee Ancestors or written in the Creator’s Hand…….
On this, the 300th Anniversary of the fall of Ft. Neoheroka, I have been asked if I would share this story. After listening to the Creator and viewing pictures of the miraculous opening in the ground and tunnel that led some of our People to safety I know this is the time I am meant to share this memory with other descendants…those that also carry the guardianship of this Place of Lasting Tears within their hearts.
So now it seems, the loving and right thing to do is to dedicate that enduring memorial within the Earth to all Tuscarora families whose ancestors lived this same journey, The Ones Who Stayed Behind.
I also sincerely ask and invite any children of Native Ancestors with similar stories, to add your own voice to the litany. If you have family echoes of these unique and fleeting smoke-like words from your own Ancestor Mothers and Fathers, I urge you to come forward and share those Sacred Memories.
Based On the Memories of
Hattie Brigman Magee
1870 SC-1949 NC
Tuscarora Descendant of Wolf Pit,
Pee Dee River,
Richmond County, North Carolina
The story I record here lies in that thin misty veil of disappearing oral history. It is a gift to the past generations that still had living memory of Great-grandmothers and Ancestors that will only be remembered to the rest of us through the breath of their words.
Women and men born near the eastern North Carolina and South Carolina border well toward the end of the nineteenth century. Their Daddies were farmers, soldiers, and Prisoners of War. Grandfathers that were healers and herb doctors, tenant farmers, river rafters. Legends of many repeated names within several connected families. Men that lived out their lives often unrecorded, unseen, but in plain sight.
The story of Grannies, widows that peacefully Crossed Over in the 1930’s and 40’s not many miles from where they were born. Grandmothers that wrapped their quiet spirits around beloved granddaughters. Like fond warm sweaters their memories have been passed on…..
This is a tribute to the powerful oral tradition maintained generation after generation, even as the voices grow more dim. The faithfulness through their lifetimes to understand shadowy answers searched for, but never found in this time and place….only found through the pieces and riddles left behind. Stories repeated time and time again. Sometimes meaning almost faded, in words that must never be lost.
Thankfully they were spoken by many whispered voices often, always in the same melodic way, repeated over and over, fragments, phrases that would become imprinted on children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
These saved memories had to remain until such time that technology could assist in piecing together the clues the Old Ones left behind. Until those words could eventually be tied to actual preserved records.
These Wolf Pit, Pee Dee family lines are ones of the early Carolina wilderness. They are now recorded as ancestors of the ancient Tuscarora, survivor families of the Tuscarora War of 1711.
As these refugees arrived from Bertie and Halifax Counties, North Carolina, near Virginia, and the coast of NC, they were Indian and part Indian. Many lived as Shadow People in the cultural and racial no-man’s-land of colonial times.
They settled along the Catawba Path, the Chawsaw Path and the Cheraw Path, part of that ancient set of trails that linked various lndian Nations.
One of these paths would eventually become Old Highway One connecting Rockingham, North Carolina to Cheraw, South Carolina along the Pee Dee River. Within this area of the “Cheraw Old Fields” lies the settlement of Wolf Pit, early traditional homes of Native related families since the mid 1700’s.
Early immigrant and Native families came together here on the frontier. Women of the Tuscarora, Pee Dee, and Cheraw Indian tribes. Within these families were Strong Native women.
Mothers who have crossed the mystery of generations without last names, often identified in records only with distinctive first names. But just as often, nothing is ever evident to be found as to Native or European names. As these women reared daughters and sons, they taught them their own unique code of frontier survival and a cultural blend of Native ways.
Families that lived on the fringe of Indian, colonial, and established society, floating in and out between two cultures.
Numerous documents and official court records of the Revolutionary period attest to their independent and nonconformist ways. Richmond County, NC and Marlboro County, South Carolina records create a picture of free agents, Revolutionary War loyalists, War of 1812 guerilla scouts and patriots. Later, Civil War conscriptees and POW’s: soldiers by necessity, not by design.
As the 1800’s unfolded, some moved away to other states trying to find a life that was easier. Some at times, changed the spelling of their name. Many remained private and silent, never speaking of their heritage of Native blood even to their own children and grandchildren.
As hardships dictated, often their heritage and identity was lost. It would only be found again in obscure forgotten archive records, by a modern generation of great-great- grandchildren. The old ones had created a kinder gentler cultural identity, but had left a mystery of family history and unspoken heritage to be unraveled.
This record celebrates the miracle of that shadowy oral history which managed to survive, finding that fragile ancient link back to the Ancestors and special gifts of the Spirit that came from them…..a strong survivor spirit in the face of immeasurable adversity. A storytelling and preservation tradition more ancient than established written records.
In closing, this is a personal account that documents what is still unspoken and unrecorded in many respects. It is a family history. Our mothers’ faithful memories tell us to preserve what is left before it is lost to our own children and family yet to come…they, the next generation of Tuscarora descendants of The Tuscarora That Stayed Behind.
The Ancestors’ voices, repeated through the lips of many generations tell us that….
“We fled somewhere quickly in the middle of the night…..
We followed the River,
Sheltered by the River.
Always the River.”
The Mystery of Great Grannie Ghee’s Words
Repeated many times over many days, many years.
A puzzle she in her own life, never fully understood. But by faith as it had been taught to her as a child, repeated and passed it on…….
First told to her daughters Alena and Zula. Then passed onto her granddaughter Naomi as she sat up late at night and listened…..
Who passed it on to her daughters and son. Who now tell their children. So they can grow up, remember the words and pass them on once more.
THE ONES THAT STAYED BEHIND
Oral History Supporting Resources:
BAE–Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, DC. [now part of National Anthropological Archives, Washington, DC]
Chavis , G.L. History and Oral Traditions of the Chavis Trading Post and Cheaves Mill, Tarr River, Granville Co., NC, Tuscarora of South Carolina, 2008.
Collett, John, et al A Compleat map of North-Carolina from an actual survey, S. Hooper, Ludgate Hill, London,1770
William P. Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps, Third Edition. Chapel Hill: University of NC Press, 1998. Map 394.;LC Maps of North America, 1750-1789, no.1500. Repository NC Collection Gallery, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
England, T. B. , Anson Co., NC, Land Grant Research , Grants, 26 Oct 1767
and 8 Dec 1770 Survey: No. 60. Thomas Brigman Location Terms: Marks Creek, Spring Branch, Chawsaw, Gum Branch, Chawsaw Road.
Feeley, Stephen D. Tuscarora Trails: Indian Migrations, War, and Constructions of Colonial Frontiers, Vol.1, page 259-260 , The College of William and Mary, 2007. Oral tradition of Tuscarora survivors [documented from 19th century memories] Escape across the river on rafts.
Mouzon, Henry “An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers, Shewing in a distinct manner all the Mountains, Rivers, Swamps, Marshes, Bays, Creeks, Harbours, Sandbanks and Soundings on the Coasts, with The Roads and Indian Paths…by Henry Mouzon and Others, Published, The American Atlas John Bennett, Robert Sayer, London, England, 1775. Repository, North Carolina State Archives
Referenced from “Tuscaroras Leave N.C.” Gatschet after Adam Williams, 44 Tuscarora., ca. 16 Sept 1885. Free Rendering by A. [Anthony] F.C. Wallace, BAE Box 372b in Extracts BAE Tuscarora Collection, F.R. [Roy] Johnson Papers, NCSA. [NC State Archives]
Roberta Estes resources:
Contentna Creek photo journal graciously provided by Robert Chavis.
Amazing story! So glad it is now written down and preserved for all generations. You do fantastic work! I bow to you and thank you!
LeAnn Knifer Atkin
Thank you, but the thanks for this story go to Pine Dove for sharing her family story and to Robert for the photo journal. I was only the midwife:) I hope that others will add their voices and stories.
Remember, the map is backwards. Also the tunnel ran into the Fort Run, not the Contentnea Creek as shown on the map. The Creek is on the other side; back behind the tree line. I do not think anyone took pictures of the creek. All the pictures are of the Fort Run.
I am drawn to your research. My mother said her great grandmother was part Tuscarora, and that her great grandmother was from this area. No proof. Family tree stops with a Collins woman. I’ve just done a DNA test. Probably never know. But my knowledge of history has increased exponentially through reading your postings. Thanks.
Thanks you Roberta for your devotion, sharing this story and allowing the ancestors to express themselves.
John, what county is the Collins family from that you descended to? The girlfriend’s mother is a Collins from Johnson County. Her mom is into Native American stuff but we never talk about Native stuff around each other. I might can toss some names around and see if any rings a bell in her head.
Derek, Thanks for the response. I have stumbled upon three Nancy Collins from the Washington/Bertie County, N.C. area (1830-1880) who could be my Nancy. Here’s a letter that I have recently sent to family tree creators who might have a connection. So far, I have received no responses.
Note to other trees:
Subject: Friley White (1826-1880) and Nancy Collins
I am seeking the wife of Friley White (1826-1880) from Plymouth, Washington Co. NC, my great great grandfather. My relationship to him is clear, supported by ample facts, but records for his wife are confusing. Facts from a daughter’s death certificate indicate that Friley married a Nancy Collins. Facts from census records show that he was married to a Nancy in 1860 who was around 23 years old. Their children were Permelia (or Amelia) Gray White and my grandmother, Ann E. White. The Gray middle name suggests that my Nancy could be the daughter (or perhaps a cousin) of John Gray Collins (1806-1869) Indian Woods, Bertie Co. NC, who married Johanah Stubbs (1812-1845). I find no records for the parents of Johanah Stubbs. This Nancy was listed in a family Bible (Robb Collins Family Tree 2008) as living from 1833-1872 and marrying in 1851, but no record of her husband.
Two different census reports have Nancy’s birth date between 1830 and 1837. Very confusing. Both census reports could have listed her age incorrectly. My mother claims that this person was part or full Tuscarora. I have read that many Collins families from that area were related to the Tuscarora. Please let me know if you have more information about the person your Nancy Collins married.
Both Collins and Stubbs are both surnames that are located in the Richmond Co., NC , Wolf Pit Township and the Marlboro Co., SC, Smithville Township which is adjacent to it as well. PineDove.
Thanks so much for responding.
The more I read about the East Coast Native Americans, the more I suspect that I will never be able to verify the comments of my mother (1906-1984) who was told by her maternal grandmother that my mother’s paternal grandmother was Tuscarora. Only if I find a relative from my grandfather’s line that supports the same rumor will I be able to say that it might be true. Most likely, if this Collins family had been part Native American, they would have hidden it from outsiders. I believe some part of my mother’s oral tradition is true, but I doubt that I’ll ever know. On the other hand, I just got tested for DNA with the 23 and Me program. We’ll see what the results tell me.
I encourage everyone who testes with 23andMe to transfer their results for Family Tree DNA for $89. Their interface is much easier to use and the people at Family Tree DNA who test are interested in genealogy. On the other hand, the ethnicity predictions at 23andMe seem to be more sensitive to Native, so we’ll definitely want to see what those say. Let us know when you get results and what they are. You can also upload results to a free site called Gedmatch that has some tools to work with too.
Exciting Isn’t it? I’m Waiting for my DNA test results from 23 & me as well! Collins. Were they part of the “Old Settlers”? I believe they were.
Hello, my name is Jeanette White Eyes.
I noticed you mentioned Collins family from Johnson County. My Samuel Collins and wife Amey, was from Johnson/Craven County in NC and was listed with his family as well documented Saponi. Their daughter Adrah Narsissa Collins (my 5th g-grandmother) was married to Seth Howard. This Saponi family ended up in MO, and lived in an Indian village there.
Also to let everyone here know, my Rhoda Price, Mercer (my 5th g-grandmother) was Tuscrarora thru her mother Elizabeth MacKeel married to Absalom Price. They lived there in Snow Hill on Little Contentnea Creek. I have a picture of Rhoda’s grandaughter, Absalee Ann Moore (daughter of Dorcas Ann Mercer, and Levi Moore) taken in late 1800’s, and she is Tuscarora, and beautiful! Many of the Price men married Tuscarora women and had to be jailed and payed fines because they refused to list their wives names to be taxed. They were living in Beaufort County NC earlier.
I have my Henry Roberts family from Johnson/Craven County that had several generations of Tuscarora wives living on the Neuse River. Their DNA test on 23andme showed positive for native.
Anyone interested in contacting me, can email me at email@example.com
Jeanette White Eyes
Pingback: Nooherooka Website at ECU | Native Heritage Project
I’ve also done a lot of research on Collins from this area, and my DNA results have me linked with descendants of John Collins, who left a will in Bertie County in 1751. Actually, all 11 of my “shaky leaves” are with Collins descendants. The family lore is that two of John’s sons — John Jr. and David — went to spread Christianity among the local Native Americans, who were living at Indian Woods. I would imagine that the Tuscarora Collinses originated with this family.
Justinpetrone: Thanks for this response. It gives me some hope that I can find a link. Are you also Estonian?
Does anyone know much about the Chavis and Dees(e) Families of the Tuscarora? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks Don
I am currently researching my family tree (paternal). Being new to this I have found it challenging. However after reading this I believe I am on the right track. My great grandmother’s name was Pearl “Snowdrop” Quick. As the family line goes per census her and her husband my grandfather and their ancestors were born, raised and lived in both SC and NC. Traveling quite a bit between the two it seems. Richmond Co., NC, Wolf Pit Township and the Marlboro Co., SC, are listed in various points. The remaining private and silent, never speaking of their heritage of Native blood even to their own children and grandchildren narrative would be both my grandmother and grandfather as well and with reason. Per the family oral story goes, my grandmother was a Chief’s daughter living on a reservation (albeit temporarily likely as they seem to travel quite often). Unbeknownst to him and to his chagrin my grandfather “took” her (no one knows the details of this, whether it was with or without her approval, knowledge or complicity). What we do know or was told is that in this process her brother (evidently a warrior) came upon him and his endeavors gave chase and shot him in the leg. He did though get away but was threatened with his life if ever returned or found. Needless to say to the best of family knowledge he nor she never did. Being that she didn’t leads one to believe she was a willing participant or came to love him on his own merit and preferred not to risk his life by contact with family. Who knows? We do know they never spoke of her family except that she was Native American from a reservation. That was undisputed. No one was told anything outside of that and everyone of that generation evidently knew not to ask. It would be wonderful if someone could provide a little more information of where to find further facts or searches for. Thanks for your assistance. Em
Although my own DNA indicates that I have only one percent “other” and the rest of it is northern European, just recently I stumbled upon more intriguing information about my supposed Tuscarora heritage. A half uncle from Elizabeth City, N.C. supported my mother’s claim that their father was raised by his Indian grandmother. Her name was Nancy Collins. Perhaps my DNA is not correct, but if it is, then she could have been either 1/4 or 1/8 Native American. In those days, she most likely would have been looked down upon by my grandfather’s family because they were all of old English descendants. It would have been easy for them to call her an Indian. I have currently suspended my heritage searches for other activities, but I intend to reinvest my time in this project sometime next month.
All of my ancestors are from the wolf pit area (Richmond county and Marolbro county line) Our surname is Smiths kin to Chavis and Leviners….we were always told we were Indian but I thought we were Cherokee…. I am thankful for this article now I know more about my heritage….
I also have relatives by the names of Smiths, Chavis, Leviners and Cowards. They lived between Richmond co. NC and Marlboro co. SC. A lot of them are buried at Pleasant Hill UMC, Wallace, SC. My grandmother was Elizabeth Smith married Coy Coward. Her mother was Lucy Chavis, who married Neil Smith. Lucys mother and father were Edmond and Polly Coward, Hinson. I also thought that we had Native American heritage. I have traced one group (Hatchers of the Carolinas) from my Grandfather,Coy Coward. I am still trying to connect these groups together.
The previous comment was incorrect. Lucy Chavis father was Arron Wesley Chavis not the Hinsons.
Sorry I had not replied Patsy, but I do know the name Neil Smith I cant remember exactly if he was my grandmothers cousin, Lucy Chavis I my cousin, but the Lucy Chavis I know was born to FloEllen (Mag) and Clyde, We have a lot of family buried at Pleasant Hill Church. My grandmother was Sallie Smith born the oldest of 16 to Ellen and Calvin Smith, and not sure but I think you can look up Pleasant hill Church and it has a section you can search the graves. Hope to hear back from you, we are Native American Indians…..I am 46 and growing up the only thing we was taught about our heritage was from my grandmother, I don’t think people acknowledged Indians back then like now, but as I told you before she taught us that we was Cherokee, but after reading about the Tuscarora I am sure that is where we came from, My grand mother was a very strong woman and so was all the other women in my family, this article speaks of the strength of these women and it sounds just like my ancestors.
I was wondering if you could help me. I have been doing our family history. My Great, great great grandmother was Priscilla Chavis married to Asa Dees. I was trying to find out who her parents were. She was born b. 1781 d. May 5, 1876. Asa was born b. 1781 d. May 27, 1878. My email is email@example.com Any help would be great !!! Thank ya Don Reid
Patsy, do you know anything about Arron Wesley Chavis’s parents Matthew Chavis and Drucilla Grant, I’m also related to the Chavis, Smith, and Cowards from Wolf Pit, my great-great grandfather was Chrisenberry Chavis he was Lucy’s brother.
I would love to learn more of the tuscorara indians. My family is tuscarora as I have learned recently and currently reside in Bertie
My grandfather father wad Leonard Boone
Does anyone know if Boyette from the Edgecombe County area is connected to the Tuscarora tribe? I’m trying to research my Grandmother’s father who was supposed to be 1/2 Tuscarora Indian, but it’s so hard to track down info. Any help would be appreciated. 🙂
My family is in the 1840 Wolf Pit Census, John S And Nancy Smith, with Judith, Senith, Benjamin. Zebadee and Elizabeth, I know they married into the Jones Family. Does anyone have knowledge where Nancy is from. There was also a Meranda Dees staying with them.
Thank you Robin
Who is the keeper of the memories now?
Can we get in contact with Pine Dove?
I will forward a comment to her, yes.
My mother was a Brigman and I am trying to find out any stories on Brittian Brigman or John Brigman from the Pee Dee area. My grandfather James Fred Brigman tells of visiting a uncle on a reservation (may have just been an area with a large community of native people). He is now deceased and I am unable to ask anymore questions. He always said that his family had native ancestors but it has never been for sure that. The records I have found are showing mulatto then they turn white.
The Brigman’s moved a lot and no one from Robeson North Carolina remembers the family. Only recalls them from graves they have seen, Or the To Die Game reference.
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This may be of interest to you.
“The Tuscarora Chief James Blounts 11th great granddaughter, The untold history of the Tuscaroras who remained in North Carolina ”
Barnes and Noble, Amazon